Altered State - Part II
Chapter 5 - EM-E - Altered State - Part II
Severus returned at seven o'clock to find The Boy Who Lived in deep slumber. Potter appeared to not have moved at all, and Severus supposed this was probably as healing for him emotionally as it was physically, considering the nightmare from the previous night. He stood looking down at Potter for a few minutes, wondering what it was that was so off with him…what had the young wizard so distressed? He acknowledged that he'd made his own task of getting the truth out of the boy far more difficult by being so harsh and critical in their conversations. Potter had revealed enough at this point that Severus knew the teen had felt betrayed by Albus, to such an extent that he'd sought the legal right to refuse the elderly wizard's directives.
He also wondered what had truly frightened Potter enough to disapparate earlier. Surely he had not feared the pain of a spanking. The boy had suffered the Dark Lord's cruciatus curse, for Merlin's sake and seemed to have come away from the experience unscathed enough that Severus was convinced he had a very high pain threshold. Thus far, I've healed scratches and bruises on him, Severus recalled. He's certainly used to knocks and minor hurts. So, what had bothered the boy so much that he'd magically transported himself to safety? He suddenly replayed his assessment of Potter's hands when they'd stood on the lawn at Private Drive that night, nearly a week prior, after the Ministry debacle. He'd seen a scar on the boy's left hand. It had been rough and raised, and in the dim evening light had almost looked like handwriting.
Severus carefully pulled back the coverlet from Potter's left side and lifted the boy's hand for a moment to have a look. I must not tell lies. Hmmmm. So I'm not the only one who finds this to be a problem, he thought ironically, but even still, he was alarmed by the scar, suspecting he knew exactly how Potter had acquired it.
Harry turned off the tap in the shower and grabbed his towel, still feeling shaky and a bit weak. I probably need to eat, he thought distractedly. He wondered what Snape would have to say about his missing dinner. It was now nine o'clock. Harry had woken up still feeling groggy, but wanting to rise for a while. The shower was the safest place for him to be sure he'd have privacy, and so he'd stood under the spray, staring dully at the stripe of tiles with the gold Gryffindor crest embellished upon them. After about twenty minutes, he'd turned off the shower, not feeling a whole lot better. Maybe I'll just go back to sleep. He could at least admit that he was grateful to have a choice about it.
He stepped out of the tiled enclosure, drying off quickly and reaching for his clothes. Bugger! No shirt. Scowling at himself in the mirror, he ran his hands through his wet hair, attempting to tame it, but gave up like he always did after only a moment.
"Mr. Potter," Snape startled Harry as he returned to his dorm room bare chested, shivering from the chill and grumbling to himself about his absent-mindedness. He looked up at his stern professor and saw that the man was staring at his torso, and the familiar plummeting doom settled in his stomach.
"That bruise..." Severus started, a slow dawning coming over him.
"It's not healing very well," Harry admitted dismissively, not wanting to know what Snape was figuring out, and really wanting to put on a shirt so he could stop shivering. He stepped around the prickly older wizard to grab his long sleeved thermal with the hole in the armpit, but he was stopped by a firm grip on his upper arm.
"I can see that," Severus said tersely. "How did you acquire it?"
Harry looked up at him and saw that Snape already knew the answer, and that he was enraged. Again.
Honestly! Why can't I catch a break? "I got hit with a spell," Harry said defensively. He tried to pull his arm from Snape's grip, but he was trapped. "Don't bloody touch me!" he raged, temper exploding in spite of his extreme despair over how badly he missed what he used to have with this wizard. He tried to dislodge his arm from Snape's grip with a sharp twist of his body. He hissed angrily at the stab of pain that exploded under his ribs.
"A time-turning spell?" Severus asked in a dangerous tone, oblivious to Harry's discomfort.
"Yes!" Harry said angrily, successfully yanking his arm out of Snape's grip and ignoring the desire to groan at how much it had hurt to do so. "It's not like I wanted this to happen! Any of it!"
Severus gritted his teeth. "When did you get sent back? And from what date?"
"I'm not going to say! I can't risk telling anyone what I know about the future!" Harry protested. "I already know how easily everything will change!"
Severus frowned at that. "You should not presume to be so very wise as to make such assessments on behalf of adults, who actually are more qualified to determine the extent of this risk you claim." This boy was going to be the end of him.
Harry glared at Snape, his eyes filling with unbidden tears as his frustration level skyrocketed. Nothing felt worse than having to listen to this wizard tell him how stupid and naive he was. "Think what you want about me. You always do. But I won't tell what I know. The stakes are too high."
"Your attitude is infuriating, Potter," Severus said coldly. "And it's testing my resolve to hold my temper with you."
"I've already bloody lived through more than you can possibly imagine!" Harry exploded. "And now I have to do it all over again!" His voice cracked, and he shut his mouth to stop the rest of his rant. Snape looked fit to be tied. "I won't tell you more until I know it's safe to," Harry said forcefully, pressing his lips together. He was going to burst into tears, and he couldn't bear the way he knew he'd feel if Severus hugged him for the first time on this timeline while still seeing him as an imbecile. "I suppose it shocks you to hear I have your safety in mind?"
Severus was unable to process what the boy had just said to him. Why in the world would Potter try to protect him? And in truth, he couldn't argue with what the young wizard had said about the danger of disclosing what he knew of the future. "Where is the time-turner, Potter?" he asked, diverting their discourse away from the brick wall that had just been erected between them again.
"Time-turner?" Harry gulped, confused. "I… I didn't see one," he said, deflated. "Does that matter?" He stepped away to struggle into the ratty thermal shirt. He was shaking badly. I'm going to lose it.
"It would matter if you wanted to return to your former timeline," Severus informed him, slightly derailed by the shift in Potter's demeanor. The light had definitely been shed upon the reason for Potter's secrecy, but the remaining secrets were still a significant source of conflict. Severus would not be able to make a consistent change in his interaction with this boy until everything was out in the open. "And so, these secrets you continue to keep," he asked severly, "are in regard to events that you've already watched play out in the near future?"
"Yes, sir," Harry said unsteadily. "Things are happening differently this time, so I'm… I'm worried about stuff."
"What stuff?" Severus asked, his patience waning yet again.
Harry's ire responded instantly to that tone. That suspicious, impatient, irritated tone of voice that reinforced every bad thing Harry had ever thought about himself. He glared up at the older wizard. "Major stuff! Stuff that I'm in the middle of, and that I've already had to battle you to believe, so you'd stop thinking I was just some stupid boy trying to get attention!"
"Lower your voice while we discuss this," Severus seethed, unable to reconcile the things Potter was telling him with so little actual information.
Harry stepped back from his professor, out of arm's reach, before he said, "Look, even if it was a good idea, it would take me an entire month to try to recap what we've- what I've gone through! This is not about whether I'm being respectful to you!" He shook his head, glaring at the floor. "You were pretty awful last time around, but at least once you started finding stuff out, you backed off. This time, you're way worse. I'd rather do this stuff alone."
Incensed with frustration, Severus took a quick step toward Potter, and the boy flinched, dramatically. They both froze. Severus was not aware of what could be read in his expression, but Potter's was full of hurt and fear. And panic. Quick as a flash, the boy spun on his heel and bolted out of the room. Severus could hear Potter's bare feet pounding down the stairs into the common room as he stood in place, blinking and heaving deep breaths inward to offset the terrific plunge his stomach had just taken.
Potter has been abused, he finally realized in deep shock. All signs have indicated as much, and I've refused to acknowledge it.
"Mr. Potter," Severus said as he made his way down the stairs, moving slowly as if he was approaching a skittish animal, "you need not fear me to such a degree."
"Bollocks," Harry spat brokenly from where he stood in the middle of the open area before the hearth. "You have that look in your eye."
"What look?" Severus asked, very carefully, choosing not to reprimand the rude brat's retort.
"That look! The one that tells me you're going to show me what's what. And that you're going to happily do it."
"I may tell you what's what," Severus said, "but I will give you my word, as of now, that I will not raise a hand to you. Alright?"
Harry studied him skeptically. "I honestly don't believe you," he said dully. "You won't stop wanting to whack me about until you have a better understanding of why I act the way I do. And that's what I can't talk about yet."
That comment suggested Severus could have an opening, if he'd just be more careful with the angst-ridden teen. "How did things play out in your other timeline?" he tried. He put his hands in his pockets, eyebrow raised, as if to say, see? when Harry gave him a frustrated look. "I've got my hands in my pockets Potter. They will not try to clobber you. Speak."
A tiny chip broke off of Harry's resolve as he got a much yearned for peek at the Severus he thought he knew beginning to come through. But he still held his ground. He had to.
Severus had been surprised to see a flash of amusement on the boy's face. We were on better terms in his previous experience, he surmised, now recalling the way Potter had called him by his first name when still groggy from sleep. Be that as it may, this version of Severus was not at all comfortable with that much familiarity with anyone, let alone the boy he had disliked on sight because he looked so much like James Potter. This version of himself was not emotionally close to anyone, other than Lucius, and Albus. He studied the tense young wizard, again really stopping to look at the boy's thin body, and smaller than normal stature for a fifth year. He realized that he had never seen the signs of neglect that had always been right before his eyes. He felt a very distinct tightening in his chest from the anticipation of a world of guilt headed his way as he tried again. "Had you filed for Emancipation?"
Harry really, really wanted to go back to bed. Also, he really, really didn't want to end up getting walloped. He reckoned he needed to throw Snape a bone, and as far as protecting the others from the future was concerned, this seemed like a safe enough topic to Harry. "I'm answering you because you knew about this by now in the other timeline," Harry said. Snape raised an eyebrow, but stayed silent, hands still in the pockets of his trousers. "I filed because a lot of bad things were happening last term, and also my aunt told me they'd had enough of me. It was her idea, actually. She thought my uncle might kill me over the Dementors. Hermione helped me find out what had to be done, and I lined up a muggle solicitor and a Gringott's goblin to help with the legalities. I was going to sneak out to muggle London sometime this week to file, but then I unexpectedly got sent back to the Dursleys. So, that at least worked out."
Severus nodded. Good. This is good. "Tell me about these bad things that happened to drive you to make that choice."
Harry looked away, misery written on his face. It had made him feel incredibly small that Snape had been so indifferent to how much he'd suffered during those Occlumency lessons. He dreaded rehashing it again. But he ought to give Snape a real response.
Severus watched Potter struggle with himself, and his instincts told him he wasn't going to like what he would hear. "Just say it, Potter," he said, almost coaxingly.
"I've really got a problem with being called a liar," Harry rasped, and as it all resurfaced in a rush of tumultuous rage and hurt, he lost track of what he was saying. "Between the bloody Prophet's blaring headlines, and the pathetic fools who believed the rubbish they printed, it didn't take long for me to stop talking to people. I'd get glared at and whispered about constantly. Add that to the dreams and visions from- …Riddle, and feeling his emotions, which are incredibly ugly, you know-"
"And being unable to Occlude them?" Severus asked. He was beginning to see a picture he was not realizing had existed with Potter.
Harry shut his mouth and cast a glare at a chair across the common room. I don't want to do this… I really don't want to do this… "It would have made a huge difference if you'd actually tried to teach me something," he said, bringing his glare around to Snape as he spoke, his voice as icy as Snape's could get. "Just telling me to quiet my mind and then… assaulting it, weren't particularly educational."
Severus clenched his jaw and forced himself not to reprimand the boy for his tone. "And yet, you did learn something, didn't you?" he asked, still being very careful. "You Occluded anything that would have raised my suspicions that you were being mistreated at your relatives."
"I was being mistreated by you!" Harry blared, absolutely seething. "I was being mistreated by Umbridge! Between the two of you-" Stop. Enough said.
"So, I bear responsibility in your hardships." Severus was stunned at what had just been said, but knew he had no right to be. And the scowl on the boy's face confirmed this.
Harry could feel the exhaustion from his magical expenditure returning, and he debated where to collapse as he said heavily, "I've already had this confrontation with you, Professor. It was hard enough once, but twice is a lot to ask."
"The facts, then, without preamble," Severus requested.
Harry pressed his lips together. "I left your classroom feeling like I'd been …mind raped! I had headaches that lasted for hours afterwards. Bad ones. I didn't practice, because I didn't really understand what it was I was supposed to be doing. Everything was so awful and difficult, but I… I felt guilty whenever you accused me of laziness," Harry told his professor. "But you're right. I did learn something. Two things, actually. One, I did learn how to keep you from seeing what my life with the Dursleys was really like. And the rest of that subject is off limits, by the way."
"And what was the second thing you learned?" Severus prompted, his voice calm in spite of his instinct to tell Potter off for declaring limits on what they could discuss.
I learned that I couldn't Occlude Voldemort because I was too connected to him. "I'll tell you when it's safe to say," Harry said, his energy was withering. He blinked a few times, feeling a numbness he didn't understand wash over him.
"I'm going back to bed," Harry announced and turned to head to the stairs. Snape was quickly beside him, and Harry sensed he might try to put a supportive arm around him. He twisted out of reach and forced himself up the stairs, making a beeline for his bed and collapsing back into it. Sleep overtook him before he even thought to remove his glasses.
Severus hesitated to touch Potter again, after the way he'd flinched and jerked himself to avoid allowing it thus far. But it bothered him that the little fool hadn't bothered to cover himself up. He removed the boy's glasses, levitated him briefly to get his covers out from beneath him, and then covered him carefully. He pulled out Potter's desk chair and sat quietly, the heaviness of the responsibility he had in the boy's hardships weighing him down to a point of needing to Occlude his own thoughts from damning himself with deep, deep shame. He watched the young wizard's eyes twitch beneath their lids as Merlin only knew what was being painted in the pictures of his dreams. It did not sit well that he'd not managed to heal Potter's injury from Bellatrix Lestrange's curse. Oh yes, Severus knew that spell, and also the counter curse that Potter would need to suffer through to get the bruise to heal. It would be an unpleasant experience, unfortunately. Not exactly an opportunity to bridge the canyon-sized gap between our perspectives.
There was a light tapping on the door, and Severus looked up to see Lupin enter with a furrowed brow. "Is Harry alright?" the new DADA professor asked quietly, but with very open concern.
"He is not," Severus said. "And I am just now concluding that he should be sleeping in my quarters, where I can keep closer supervision over him."
"What's going on, Severus?" Remus asked.
"At the moment, I am trying to contain a horrid set of circumstances," Severus answered, choosing a cryptic non-answer to cover his shame.
"Are you asking me to install a room for Harry in your quarters?" Remus asked, and then after a beat, "Is this alright with Harry?"
Severus snapped his head toward the werewolf. "It's not up to the boy," he said icily. "It is up to me. I have determined he needs to be in closer proximity to me in the immediate future."
"Have you discussed this with Albus or Minerva?" Remus asked, suspicious of Severus' evasive response.
Severus sighed loudly. "You've repeatedly offered to repay my efforts to provide you with the Wolfsbane Potion, have you not?" he ground out unpleasantly. He had no intention of discussing this with Albus. Not until Potter was willing to elaborate more extensively about his issues with the elderly wizard. "Will. you. do. this?"
"Yes," Remus said reluctantly. "When?"
"When will you bring Harry down here, Severus?" Remus asked as he put the finishing touches on the small bedchamber he'd added between the doors to Severus' bedroom and the bathroom. He'd grown increasingly tense about this impending arrangement for Harry as he'd worked, and Severus had not been forthcoming with any further explanation.
"I imagine tomorrow night will suffice," the potions master replied dismissively. "I also imagine I will be ready to throttle him by the time he retires for sleep."
Remus turned to him with narrowed eyes, his patience having run through its limits. "Do you have any concerns as to why Harry sought Emancipation?" he demanded. "Do you know any more about why he had that knot on his forehead? Or why he was in tears when Albus confronted him about the wards?"
Severus had spent the past forty-five minutes battling himself inwardly over just how extensively he now officially would need to atone for his treatment of Potter for the past four and a half years. The past two days alone were enough to make a red flush of shame rise up from his neck through his hairline. He was not particularly interested in sharing this with Remus Lupin, of all people. "I will deal with the boy and his problems as I see fit, wolf," Severus said in his nastiest tone.
Remus snapped at that. He grabbed Severus by the shoulders and slammed him back against the wall he'd just expanded, putting his face right in front of his former school mate's. "I will warn you once, Severus," he seethed, "you will answer to me if you harm that boy in any way." He pulled Severus forward and slammed him back into the wall again to emphasize his threat.
Enraged, Severus thrust his arms up between them and knocked Lupin's away, quickly grabbing the werewolf and spinning him around, and slamming him into the wall. "And I have already warned you, wolf," he spat, "not to assume you know what is behind my motivations where Potter is concerned. The boy is oblivious to everything and everyone, caring only about his own personal agenda."
Remus directed a very cold glare at Severus. "You really have no idea who Harry is, Severus," he said in a steely tone. "You never have. He is incredibly sensitive, and if you think your wretched treatment of him has left him unscathed, you are a fool. He deserves better than this."
The two wizards glared at each other with open hostility. It need not be said aloud that Remus believed he could take better care of Harry, but would never be legally allowed to do so in the wizarding world. Remus jerked himself out of Severus' grip and left the potion master's quarters in a defeated rage.